Eating Healthfully: Tips to Make It Easier
by Larry Lindner, MA
Many people wonder how to cook and eat healthier foods which do not require a lot of time or money. Chances are that you have a good understanding of the basic principles of health and nutrition. But thanks to today's fast-paced lifestyles, the real challenge is practicing what you know!
Occasionally, we find ourselves resorting to "quick fixes," which gradually may become bad eating habits. Then we build up reasons, or "myths" about why we cannot eat better. See if you recognize any of the common "myths" listed below. You may be surprised how easy they are to change.
Eating nutritiously is too expensive.
Many people believe that fruits, vegetables, fish, and the other components of a healthful diet cost more than they currently spend on food.
Consider what happened when researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Mary Imogene Bassett Research Institute gave nearly 300 people with high cholesterol how-to home videos for cutting fat from their diets. After nine months, the participants who had lowered their blood cholesterol the most had also lopped an average of $1.10 each day off their food bills. That comes to more than $400 a year (or $1,600 for a heart-healthy family of four).
It makes perfect sense when you put pencil to paper. A bowl of cereal with milk costs a lot less than buying a donut or muffin on the way to work. And a mid-afternoon apple or banana is still cheaper than a candy bar.
Myth No. 2:
It is too hard to eat the recommended 5-9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
Most Americans do not eat the recommended daily amounts of produce. But having a piece of fruit is not the only way to slip more produce into the diet, even though people assume that is what they should do. What about adding a couple of slices of tomato and a lettuce leaf to a tuna sandwich? Or mixing a cup of finely shredded carrots into a pot of spaghetti sauce? There are many other creative ways to add fruits and vegetables to your diet.
Myth No. 3:
I do not have time to eat better.
Sure you do. The average adult American watches over 20 hours of television a week. No doubt you could trade an hour of reruns or game shows for an hour in the kitchen preparing a lasagna layered with vegetables or a from-scratch meal of chicken breast, potato or rice, and a salad.
There is nothing wrong, by the way, with using bottled spaghetti sauce and other time-saving convenience foods to prepare your "from-scratch" meals. Just remember that the more you rely on processed/convenience foods, the harder it is to control the fat and sodium content of the foods you prepare. But relying on already-prepared supermarket products does not undermine your intentions to prepare nutritious meals. That is especially true in light of the many low-fat, reduced-sodium products available to consumers today.
Myth No. 4:
My sweet tooth prevents me from having better eating habits.
Eating well does not mean denying your sweet tooth. It just means taming it. Accept that sugar—high in calories and low in nutrients—is going to be a part of your life. Just eat less of it but enjoy it more.
Do not just haphazardly eat ice cream right out of the container, or indiscriminately cut slices of your favorite coffee cake at the kitchen counter. Instead, deliberately serve up a scoop in a bowl or a slice on a plate, sit down, and savor every single bite. Mindless eating piles in a lot of calories and you might not even be enjoying it. But mindful deliberate bites with focus on taste can be very satisfying and much less fattening. When you are done, walk away knowing that you can have more tomorrow or the next day. You can have your cake and eat it, too.
Myth No. 5:
I like fast food too much to eat well.
Fast food does not have to be an all-or-nothing thing. Giving into a burger or burrito craving a few times a year will not kill you or sabotage your good intentions. Furthermore, fast food does not have to mean bad-for-you food. All the major fast-food chains offer lower-calorie, reduced-fat sandwiches and salads.
Another way to fit fast food into your healthful lifestyle is to combine it with not-quite-so-fast food. Buy the burger or fried chicken at the drive-through window. Do not order the French fries or coleslaw dripping with dressing. Instead, drive straight home, bake a potato in the microwave and serve up some of those pre-cut vegetables you bought on your weekly trip to the supermarket. You will save fat, calories, and money.
Myth No. 6:
I often overeat, which does not go hand in hand with a good diet.
It is certainly not a good idea to eat more than you are hungry for every time you sit down to a meal. But almost everyone has polished off a box of cookies in one sitting or stuffed themselves silly at a holiday dinner at least once in their lifetime. The trick is not to beat yourself up about it. Eating too much once in a while is not a fatal character flaw. In fact, the more you forgive yourself the occasional binge, the easier it is to go back to your regular, healthful eating habits the next day. Punishing yourself emotionally about how much or what you have eaten sets up a self-defeating cycle of "being good" and "letting all hell break loose" at the refrigerator door. So instead of trying to be perfect and giving up if you cannot; try to be better. Even one binge a week less than before is going to improve your health. And try to get the number of binges lower and lower.
Myth No. 7:
If I exercise, I'll be extra hungry, eat more, and gain weight.
In fact, people who exercise regularly often eat less than those who do not. Regular and moderate exercise may actually suppress appetite a bit. And, exercise can help relieve stress. Stress can lead to nibbling on more food and excess calories.
If you debunk a myth a month, you will be on a health track by the end of the year. You can do it. Rethinking the myths and the alibis can afford you more food choices than you may ever have imagined, and a resulting lifestyle that is both healthful and invigorating.
Try these recipe tips for a healthier diet.
For Breakfast, Dessert, or a Snack
The following healthy foods can be eaten for breakfast, snack, or as a topping to your favorite dessert:
Suggestions for Entrees
American Dietetic Association
International Food Information Council
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition
Dietitians of Canada
Daviglus ML, Liu K, Pirzada A, et al. Relationship of fruit and vegetable consumption in middle-aged men to medicare expenditures in older age: the Chicago Western Electric Study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105(11):1735-44.
Saul JA, Rader JM, Jenkins PL, Mitchell DC, Shannon BM, Pearson TA. Does a cholesterol-lowering diet cost more? Presented at the 66th Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association. The Mary Imogene Bassett Research Institute, Cooperstown, NY and the Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA; Nov 8-11 1993.
Protect yourself by taking the fifth. Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Letter . Vol 11, No. 3. May 1993.
US Department of Agriculture. Versatile vegetables. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.cnpp.us... . Accessed June 14, 2010.
Wargovich MJ. Nutrition and cancer: the herbal revolution. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. Mar 1999;15(2):177.
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